Long-distance adoption: Czechs foster goodwill in Africa

Photo: www.adopceafrika.cz

In recent years, the Czech humanist movement has perhaps become best known here for its long-distance 'adoption' programme for African children. Over two thousand children have found Czech 'parents'. I caught up recently with Czech humanist volunteer Jana Soukupova and two Kenyan coordinators, Griffin Otieno Okungu and Asimah Hamisi Feirukha, to talk about what adoption can mean for an African child.

The humanist movement began in Argentina in the 1960s and now has some 800,000 members worldwide. The movement, which is based on the principles of active non-violence and the promotion of human rights, considers itself more of a global community than an organisation. It has been active in the Czech Republic since 1994.

Jana Soukupova: "Our civic association focuses on Kenya; there are two other civic associations in the Czech Republic within the humanist movement that work in Guinea and Benin. The project I think the Czech public knows well is the adoption of African children - a project of distance help. This means we try to find someone in the Czech Republic who would like to sponsor a child in Kenya. We mainly support children from the poor suburbs in Nairobi and the second-largest city in Kenya, which is Mombassa, because in theses cities there are the poorest neighbourhoods and there are a lot of orphans -- and children from poor families - who need support."

Some ten thousand people live on the streets of Nairobi, many of them children. I spoke with two Kenyans, both members of the humanist movement, who work in tandem with their Czech partners to help get some of them off the streets and into the classrooms.

Griffin Otieno Okungu: "I'm Griffin I live in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. I play a part in coordinating the adoption of children in Kenya. The role I play most is that I connect with the families in the slums in Nairobi. And through the families we find the needy children for this programme here."

Asimah Hamisi Feirukha: "I'm Feirukha from Kenya, 45 years old. I'm a volunteer coordinating for different slums in Nairobi."

RP: How do you find them? Is it being on the streets and seeing a needy child? Or do their parents learn of the organisation and come to you?

Griffin Otieno Okungu: "In Nairobi, or elsewhere in Kenya, we have families that are members of the humanist movement and normally we have meetings with them and whenever we have request letters from the Czech Republic to find some more children for adoption, we connect with these families. They know better which families among them need this programme. So we find get children through these families or through members of the humanist movement."

Asimah Hamisi Feirukha: "We actually take children from about five years old and above. You can even adopt a child at the age of ten, depending on the problems a child is having."

RP: What kind of a difference does it make in their lives to have a Czech 'adoptive parent'?

Griffin Otieno Okungu: "Surely it makes a big difference to these children because, first of all, it gives them the opportunity to have an international relationship, and to have the opportunity to start going to school - which they were unable to do before. The programme is so helpful to these kids."

The Kenyan government introduced free primary school education only two years ago. This had unintended complications for the educational system itself; the resulting influx of children has meant that resources are perhaps spread even thinner. But the goal of 'free' schooling has fallen short of expectations. The Czech adoptive parents help make up the difference.

Griffin Otieno Okungu: "The government was trying to introduce public education - but it is not fully free, because apart from the initial school fees they used to pay, now when a child reports to the school, the child is required to provide a desk -which means the family has to buy a desk for the child, the child has to buy the basic textbooks and they pay a 'building fee.' So, actually, it is not free as such."

Jana Soukupova: "For quite a lot of children, actually, the big change is - okay, they could manage to go to primary school and finish primary education, but as for secondary schools and education, really much more money is needed. So for most - really most - of the children, secondary education wouldn't be possible. But once the adopted child finishes primary school, we ask the sponsor here whether he or she would like to continue with the sponsorship. Mostly, of course, the answer is 'yes'."

RP: So you are looking for a long-term commitment from the Czech adoptive parents?

Jana Soukupova: "Yes. Most of the parents started in 2002 and they continue the support, the sponsorship. I believe that most of the sponsors here, the parents, would agree to help the child until they complete not only primary school, but secondary education. And this gives the children a much greater chance of getting a job, or better-paid job, or if not getting a job, then helping within the community. So it's, I would say, the biggest change for them - secondary education."

RP: I'd like to ask something about your own education. Your parents had to find the money to pay for your education - was it difficult?

Asimah Hamisi Feirukha: "In my case, you know, my education wasn't so good because it was quite some years back, and when I studied we were taught under a tree! I was five or six when I joined a proper school. We were paying something little. I can not remember how much now, but it was money. When I went to secondary school, I could attend two days, maybe a week, another week I would be at home because of the school fees. And that is what is happening with most parents even now."

RP: Are you a parent yourself? Do you have young children?

Asimah Hamisi Feirukha: "I'm a parent of four children; two out of school, two in school. You try so hard to raise money for school fees. So I wouldn't like any child to suffer the way I suffered.

RP: And what was your case, growing up?

Griffin Otieno Okungu: "I am married also, but we do not yet have a child, they are yet to come [laughs]. But, in my case, I went to school in the late 1970s up to the 1980s, and the situation, I can say from an economic point of view, was almost the same. During our time, the school fee was around 25 Kenyan shillings, which the average family in Kenya -- like my parents -- was unable to pay. So, if they were unable to pay 25 shilling at that time, and now parents are again unable to pay 1,000 or 2,000 shilling, it is almost the same, from an economic point of view".

Jana Soukupova: "Apart from distance adoption, we have many other programmes because the basic idea of the humanist movement is tolerance, connecting people of different nations and races..."

Each Czech adoptive parent gets a photo of the child they are helping send to school. In their new and treasured school uniforms, with textbooks in hand, it makes for a powerful image.